New Zealand might be known for its extreme sports – bungy-jumping anyone? – but you don't have to go hard-core to experience an adrenaline rush in Aotearoa. If plunging from a platform or falling from a plane is a bit too heart-in-mouth, when you're planning your next Kiwi holiday, consider stepping out of your comfort zone with these soft-adventure alternatives you can do with the whole family.
Zip lining eco-adventure
Satisfy the conservationists and the thrill seekers in the family on an eco-adventure through ancient native forest. Rotorua Canopy Tours combines forest walks, tree-top platforms, swing bridges and zip lines with intimate interactions with native birds, thanks to their conservation work eradicating introduced pests.
Equally as exhilarating as swooping down a zip line and skimming the treetops is having a tomtit dart on to your hand for a worm. Admire the majesty of 1000-year-old trees, the delicate beauty of ephemeral fungi and the melodic calls of bellbirds and tuis. The daring can zip backwards or upside down but everyone will be enchanted by the reverence of the prehistoric forest. Minimum age 6 years. canopytours.co.nz
Jet boating jaunt
Combine the power of a jet boat with the grandeur of nature for a wet'n'wild experience that will have you alternately screaming in fear and whooping with delight. Shotover Jet outside Queenstown barrels down towering canyons up to 90kph, swerving within a hair's breadth around rock walls and bouncing over rapids. shotoverjet.com
Bush'n'Beach horse riding
Swap the thrumming of mechanical horsepower for the throbbing heartbeat of the real thing on a family horse trek near Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki on the South Island's West Coast. Skirting the edge of Paparoa National Park you ride through a buttercup-filled valley beside the Punakaiki River past trees dripping with lichen. After clopping through stony river crossings you'll stop for tea and biscuits at a rustic cabin beside a fern-fringed stream. The return route traverses towering flax plants before arriving at the black sand of Punakaiki Beach, where confident riders can trot or canter along the water's edge. Led beach rides available for children.
The exhilaration of weightlessness instantly replaces any hesitation of hurtling off Bob's Peak in Queenstown. Gliding gracefully like a gull gives ample time to appreciate the bird's-eye view over pine trees, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkable Mountains. Relax and take the controls as you gently ride the thermals or let your pilot execute some wing-overs for squeal-inducing excitement. Pick out your accommodation from above as you come in to land on a sporting field in the centre of town. Don't be disappointed if winds dictate departure from Coronet Peak, as the views over Wakatipu Basin are equally mesmerising. Minimum weight 20kg.
Mountain bike madness
There's no better place to learn mountain-biking skills than Rotorua's Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest, latticed by a 140km-web of world-class trails designed by mountain bikers. Don't be put off by trail names like Roller Coaster, No Brains and Frontal Lobotomy (think of the bragging rights) as the guys at MDA cater to every level, teaching newbies the basics in a field before hitting the trails. Stick to gentle forestry roads or beginner tracks beside fern-fringed streams, though, given the enthusiasm of your upbeat and jocular guides, you may well find yourself attempting to fang it downhill, dodging trees and jumping logs. Bikes for age 4 years plus. Trailer bike for toddlers.
Make like an intrepid alpine explorer on a glacier heli-hike at Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers. With jackets, boots and ice crampons supplied you only need low-to-moderate fitness and a sense of adventure. The helicopter flight gives an aerial perspective of the surrounding landscape, while the scale, force and sculptural beauty of the ice flow can be seen as you come in to land on the glacier. Don crampons and follow your pick-wielding guide across the ice river, down chiselled steps, past pinnacles, arches, caves and tunnels that glow an ethereal ice blue. Minimum age 9 years.
Nocturnal stand-up paddle boarding
Finding your balance on a stand-up paddle board is exciting in itself, but doing it in the dark and paddling to little-known glow worm caves takes it to a whole new level. On Lake Ōkareka outside Rotorua you meet before dusk to learn the basics of paddling before pushing off on to the lake as the sun disappears. With headlamps on, you paddle in your own little spotlight to the entrance of the caves where you sit on the boards and glide through so close to the glow worms you can see their delicate mucus threads. Alternatively, you can kayak to the caves. Minimum age 10 years. paddleboardrotorua.com
If you're up for letting yourself down by a rope, why not up the ante and abseil into an underground cave at Waitomo? It's not as scary as it sounds – partly because you can't see what awaits 60 metres below you. The reward is subterranean limestone chambers known as St Benedict's Caverns. Guides from Waitomo Adventures nurture novices in the art of abseiling on a grassy slope before descending a hole in a farmer's paddock to a world of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and fossils. An underground zip line through the magnificent "Cathedral" protects the stalagmites while making you feel like Indiana Jones. Minimum age 12 years.
Hydro (shark) attack
Say you've been underwater in the jaws of a shark and you're sure to earn respect, though mention it happened in Queenstown's Lake Wakatipu and you may garner a double-take. Skimming across the lake, diving and leaping, Hydro Attack's jetski-engine-powered semi-submersibles resemble mechanical sharks. Feeling like you're in the cockpit of a fighter jet, these torpedo-like craft reach a seat-grabbing 80kph. Bubbles stream along the canopy like stars at warp speed as you dive underwater. There's a moment of peaceful serenity submerged in the opaque turquoise water, before you rocket skyward up to five metres above the lake and hope for a tail-first landing. Minimum age 6 years.
Check government alert level restrictions and follow Ministry of Health guidelines before you travel.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com